By IVAN MORENO
MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Green Bay Packers and Microsoft are starting a tech incubator near Lambeau Field in a $10 million partnership aimed at promoting innovation in an area not typically targeted by major, global companies.
For Microsoft, the project announced Thursday is part of an initiative the company announced last week in Fargo, North Dakota, to spur technological advances and create jobs in rural and small metropolitan areas.
“We are bringing to a smaller city the types of efforts that you tend to see today only in the larger cities in the world,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said.
For the Packers, the goal is to drive long-term economic growth to help ensure Green Bay keeps its NFL franchise.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that Green Bay is always going to be in an economic position to be able to sustain the Packers,” said Ed Policy, team vice president and general counsel.
The Packers have sold out every game at Lambeau Field since November 1959, but Green Bay is the smallest city to have an NFL team, having a population of about 105,000 people. Lambeau Field’s current capacity is more than 81,400, making it one of the largest stadiums in the NFL.
The incubator will be housed in a new, state-of-the-art building to be built in Green Bay’s Titletown District, just west of Lambeau Field. The development already includes a hotel, a brewery, and a sports-medicine and orthopedics clinic. It also has a plaza and park with playgrounds and a full-size football field that’s open to the public.
Microsoft and the Packers are each investing $5 million over five years in the project. Most of the money is going to a venture-capital fund to invest in startups that will work out of the new center. Startups can get 18 weeks to work in the space, where they will receive advice and technical assistance.
“Using the Packers’ brand kind of gives us a little bit of a beacon for all entrepreneurs to kind of look our way,” Policy said.
The Packers will pay for the new building, which is expected to cost between $8 million and $10 million, Policy said. The center will have a lab where established businesses can send employees to work on new ideas.
“There is, in my opinion, perhaps no single organization that better unites the people of Wisconsin than the Green Bay Packers,” said Smith, who attended middle school and high school in Appleton, about 30 miles southwest of Green Bay.
The initiative Microsoft started last week in North Dakota, called TechSpark, comes in response to a concern Smith voiced in a blog after the 2016 presidential election, when he said the results “registered a strong concern about the plight of those who feel left out and left behind.”
TechSpark is a multiyear, multimillion-dollar investment to expand rural broadband, create jobs, and teach computer science to students, among other things. Smith has said other projects will be pursued in Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
Smith said the Titletown venture is a chance to help fulfill “a huge amount of promise and potential” in Wisconsin’s technology sector.
“Wisconsin today has lots of successful businesses and lots of smart people. But it does not yet have a technology sector that is really working at scale,” he said.